Project Time: 30-45 minutes
In this post, you will learn how to make a simple electric propeller car using basic parts and some creativity. This project is great for a makerspace or mechanical engineering challenge at school, library or home.
Once you learn the basics, you can experiment with different body styles and designs to make your car go faster. You can also set up a competition between friends to see who can build the fastest propeller car. Make STEAM education fun !
The good thing about this project is that you can get most of your “car” parts from the trash. You can use cardboard, bottles, boxes and most containers to create the body of your propeller car. Get creative!
For this tutorial, we are going to show you how to build the car body using cardboard.
In addition to the cardboard, you will also need the following materials:
- Bottle Caps
- Plastic Propeller
- DC Motor
- AA Battery Holder
- AA Batteries
- Wood Skewers or Dowel Rod
You will need some basic tools in order to cut the wire, cardboard and dowel rod.
- Wire Snips
- X-Acto or Razor
- Tin Snips or similar
In this tutorial we chose to connect the parts using a hot glue gun. You could also use super glue or another type of quick-drying adhesive.
Step 1 – Car Body
The first thing you need to do is cut one piece of cardboard to approximately 3″ wide x 8″ long. This section will be the base of the propeller car.
Next, cut two pieces of cardboard 1.5″ x 1.5″. This section will be the part that holds the motor.
Step 2 – Attach The Axle
Cut two straws and glue them to the bottom of the cardboard. Make sure the straws are wider than the base which will help keep the wheels from contacting the cardboard.
Insert the wooden skewers or dowel rods into the straws leaving about an inch sticking out.
Step 3 – Prep The Wheels
The fun thing about this project is that you can get really creative with most aspects of the build. For example, there are countless materials that you can repurpose to create the wheels of the car. Here are a few examples:
- Bottle Caps
- Plastic Cup Bottoms
- Foam Cup Bottoms
- Pringles Can Top/Bottom
- Gatorade Bottoms
- 5-Hour Energy Bottle Bottoms
For this project, we’re using soda bottle caps.
Mark the center with a sharpie and form a hole the same size as your wooden axle. Make sure it is a snug fit. The most precise way to do this is by using a drill and drill bit. You can also use a razor blade and cut a tiny “X” in the bottle cap.
Step 4 – Mount The Wheels
Now it’s time to mount the wheels on the axle of the propeller car. If the cap is a little loose, you will need to add hot glue to the middle. Make sure the wheels are kept as straight as possible while the glue is hardening.
Once the glue is firm, go ahead and spin both sets of wheels to make sure they roll freely.
Step 5 – Add Battery Holder
Using the hot glue, mount your battery holder to one end of the car.
Step 6 – Add Motor Platform
Now it’s time to build your motor elevation platform. Glue the two squares of cardboard together and then glue the platform to the center rear of the base.
Step 7 – Connect The Propeller
Push your propeller onto the shaft of the motor that you’re using. It’s easier to do it now before the motor is mounted.
Step 8 – Mount The Motor
Using hot glue, mount the middle of the motor to the cardboard platform. Make sure the terminals of the motor are on top and easily accessible.
NOTE – If you want to reuse the motor for other projects, try using zip ties instead of hot glue. This will make it much easier to remove at the end of the project.
Step 9 – Connect The Wiring
The first thing you want to do is a test to make sure the propeller is spinning in the correct direction. Add the batteries to the holder and touch the black wire to one terminal on the motor and the red wire wire to the other. Verify the propeller is pushing air away from the motor. If it’s not, switch the wires.
Now go ahead and put the black wire through the terminal hole and twist it a few times. If you want it to be permanent, you can solder the connection.
Now we’re going to add a switch to the circuit.
Cut the red wire from the battery holder in half and strip the end. Push the stripped wire into the middle hole of the switch and twist a few times to secure.
Take the other half of the red wire and strip both ends of it. Push one end of the red wire into the outer hole of the switch and twist to secure. Twist the other end of the red wire to the open terminal on the motor.
Glue the switch to the cardboard. If needed, you can also glue the red and black wire down so they’re not loose.
Add the batteries to the holder and flip the switch to test out your amazing propeller car.
Try creating another propeller car using different materials and see how it affects the car’s performance. Keep experimenting !
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